Production system, shearing status and lamb numbers are important factors in barn decisions

Floor and bunk space play a vital role in sheep health

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Within the sheep industry there isn’t one ideal design when building or retro-fitting a facility.

This leads to an array of facilities, ideas and layouts in production systems across the province, although, there are factors to keep in mind to allow for efficiency and improved health of the flock.

Why it matters: Barn layouts affect the efficiency of producers’ operations. Problematic layouts and attributes can lead to more expensive operations and unhealthy flocks.

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Anita O’Brien, On-Farm Programs Lead with Ontario Sheep Farmers, outlined to producers the main factors to keep in mind when building, at the 2019 Ontario Sheep Convention, Oct 24 and 25.

The more groups the operation has within their facilities, the more labour intensive and expensive it is. More gates for penning and more waterers are needed, for example.

When working with an annual lambing system, it’s ideal to have two groups — one for mature ewes and one for replacement ewe lambs.

When looking at an accelerated lambing system, it’s more common to have vast number of groups as different animals are at different ages and stages of gestation — requiring many different rations.

“If we have groups whose nutritional requirements are so different and we are feeding different TMR mixes we’re adding a lot to the time of mixing etc. and that’s going to pull things down. The goal is we group them or at least put them in pens beside each other. Then if we are having two different mixes, we aren’t running through the same barn twice to feed those different groups,” says O’Brien.

When looking at floor space within a facility, it all depends on what type of system a producer is working with, as well as the age of the animals.

A feedlot with a hard surface floor requires 16 square feet per head for ewes or rams and 6.5 square feet per head of feeder lambs.

An open front shed floor area requires 15 square feet per head for a pregnant ewe, 16 square feet per head for a ewe with lambs, a dry ewe requires 10 square feet per head and the ceiling height for ewes and rams is required to be nine feet.

The above numbers are based on the National Farm Animal Care Council code of practice. O’Brien did some calculations and says our livestock should be given more space than that when lambing — especially mid and high productivity ewes giving twins or triplets.

According to O’Brien, mid productivity ewes should be given 15 per cent more space and highly productive ewes should be given 25 per cent more space.

“How many that are accelerated lambing with prolific breeds have mastitis problems? We are talking to people and one of the biggest problems after weaning was mastitis. Is it because, during lambing, during the lactation we’re not giving them the extra space?”

The extra lambs running around in that pen creates wetter bedding and producers are not bedding to match that.

“I’m not saying we should go there, I’m saying factor that in, think about it, where you are with your plans and what breed type you are using in your production system.”

Proper amount of bunk space at the feeder is vital for proper nutrient intake and also survival.

“It’s not just crowding, it’s the risk of death because of crowding and choking each other in the feed bunk, especially when we are feeding grain, but it can also be when we are feeding TMR as well.”

The National Farm Animal Care Council suggests when hand feeding, 16 inches for ewes and rams and 12 inches for feeder lambs.

O’Brien says this doesn’t take into consideration the difference required when looking at shorn and non-shorn livestock.

“In the U.K. it’s not a requirement, but there is a suggestion of 10 per cent more bunk space (unshorn).”

Heavily pregnant ewes and dry ewes that are unshorn both need 10 per cent more bunk space, the British guidelines say.

It’s all about comfort for the livestock, the more comfortable the livestock, the more they will be productive.

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